Progsheet - A Few Words With...Kitten Natividad

Interview by John A. Wilcox

In my late teens, I would go downtown to Dorain's drug store and faithfully buy my copy of weekly Variety as I was fascinated by the motion picture industry. One day I purchased a massive issue as thick as a phone book promoting the MIFED film festival. As I thumbed through it, I stopped dead in my tracks. There was a full page black & white ad for Russ Meyer's Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixens. Busty girls galore. The key figure was the gorgeous Francesca "Kitten" Natividad. She hit my hormones like an H-bomb! As the years passed, films like My Tutor and Takin' It All Off were staples of HBO / Cinemax weekends. Imagine my delight when Ms Natividad agreed to my recent request for an interview. We had a delightful chat on the phone. She has a totally engaging laugh and a sweet demeanor. Here's what we discussed...

PS: What are your feelings on the current burlesque scene? I know you've been a judge at several burlesque events.

KN: They're trying to have a burlesque revival, but you know what? They're forgetting 1 special ingredient!

PS: And what's that?

KN: Men! You have to get men to go and see it. They're happy as can be without a man there. Despite judges, women go. Maybe they just feel this freedom because all kinds of girls get up there. Fat ones, skinny ones, beautiful ones, not so beautiful ones.

PS: I've heard some younger performers say it's "empowering" for them.

KN: I don't like that. An interviewer said "So you did burlesque to empower yourself?" Hell no! I went up there to turn men on! Because I like entertaining men. I went up there to be an entertainer. I love entertaining. I didn't even think of empowering. Yes, it gave me satisfaction, and I was proud of myself, but I didn't go out just for that. You know what I'm saying? I don't get it when they say "Oh, it's so empowering." Making a great dinner for my family is empowering.

PS: I wonder if it's a new sort of generational thinking?

KN: Oh, it's full of shit! People do what they want to do. Why do they have to analyze it all the time? No. I just like to dance. I had a great body and I loved to show it off. I was into men. I like sex. So I did it!

PS:I believe the first film I saw you in was My Tutor.

KN: Oh, OK. That was a small role.

PS: You sure made the most of it!

KN: Absolutely! Every role is important. No matter how small, it's very important!

PS: Your latest role is in an indie film called Shhhh. Who do you play in it?

KN: I play a hooker. I'm friends with one of the cops and I give him a blow job all the time and I snitch on people. I'm his informant. I'm not sure if it's come out. It's quite cute. It's very different. It's gory. It's what the young people like.

PS: Was it a fun shoot?

KN: It was a fun shoot. A lot of these guys that are making films were fans of mine, so they ask me to be in their movies and it's quite a treat for me. I just say "Sure!" I think it's lovely.

PS: You had a role in The New Centurions.

KN: Oh my God, my first film ever! I was so glad to do films in Hollywood in those days. George C Scott - he had so many big stars come to visit him while he was filming there. They would go to his trailer and play cards, or they'd just sit outside and actually have real drinks and play cards in between his takes. I saw Rosie Greer come to visit him and sit there and knit sweaters for him. It was kind of fun! Real fun! I was just playing a go-go dancer waitress.

PS: How'd you get that gig?

KN: Well, they went in there and they told the owner "Can we shoot here? We like the set-up here. He said "Yes" and then they said "OK, we need 2 girls" and they looked at me and another girl and they picked us. That was very simple and I was so excited. I had to come in at like 7 o'clock. When you get off work at 2, it was hard. You didn't sleep at all then. I went home, showered, and got ready to go shoot. I didn't sleep that night. It was weird.

PS: Did The New Centurions make it easier to get work at that point?

KN: You know what it was? I think it was just my personality and my looks. When I worked in Hollywood they would come in. People that were making films like My Tutor. They came in to the Body Shop and they were looking at girls that don't mind taking their clothes off. Nowadays the big stars will take their clothes off, but in those days stars would go "Oh, no, I'm an actress. I don't do nude." So they would go to the strip joints where women didn't have any qualms about that. They would go there and they'd usually select me. They could've had anybody. It was my time in those days.

PS: You ooze charisma.

KN: I think I'm a fun person. You can't hold it down.

PS: Your personality always shone through your characters.

KN: That's correct. You're a very wise man! (laughing) I'll tell you who made a big difference in my life - Russ Meyer. He opened a lot of doors for me, really.

PS: You did 2 films together: Up! and Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixens.

KN: Yes, but they were great films and he has a huge, huge following! So there you go. We're talking worldwide.

PS: What was his advice to you as far as harnessing what you have?

KN: His advice for me was "Don't work for anybody but me!" (laughs) I was his woman. He didn't like it when I went to make films or do porn or anything. He hated it. Once I was working for Hal, my agent doing pin-ups, he started taking pictures of me because he didn't want me to work for Hal. He was a jealous man. A normal man. And he wanted me all to himself. He did like sharing me in his films. He loved it. That was it. That's why we never got married. We had a lot of fights. I was like 35 years younger than him. We just fought fought fought because I wanted to be me. Do what I wanted to do. I was very liberated. Not because I was going to be "empowering." Because I wanted to do what I wanted to do.

PS: What would the average person not know about Russ Meyer's life?

KN: He was a loyal friend, especially to his buddies. They meant everything. He loved his mother very much. He was a big mama's boy. He was a good friend because if somebody needed a job or needed money, he'd help them. He'd be there for them. He'd worry about them. He'd get up at 4 o'clock to take them to the hospital. He was a good guy. A man's man.

PS: Old school.

KN: Oh, definitely. Oh, yeah! Yes yes yes. But he was a little bit modern. He didn't especially expect me to stay home and have babies and all that. He liked the fact that I went out and worked as a burlesque dancer and made money and turned men on and all that. He was all for that.

PS: Speaking of Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixens, tell me about the late June Mack. Very little is known about her.

KN: Oh my God! The voice they used on her was not her own. She had a tiny little voice like a little girl and she acted like a little girl. She giggled all the time. On her way to work she would have like a gallon of ice cream on her lap as she drove. She'd get to work and she'd say "I just killed a gallon of ice cream." And I'd go "Shut up!" She was nice. Very nice. Very shy. Russ got her through Roger Ebert. Roger Ebert was dating her at the time. He kept telling Russ "You've got to meet June. She's something else!" Then Russ said "OK" When he met her, he said "I'm going to use her." Then we all went to hear jazz. We all dressed up in miniskirts and low cuts. Of course everybody saw us come in. We went to one of the most expensive restaurants and everybody dropped their forks! (laughs) It was fun. Where we sat during the meal Russ would say "OK, girls - get up and go to the bathroom. I want to see these guys choke on their food!" He was a brat.

PS: Sounds like a little pride going on there.

KN: Oh, yes. He knew exactly what was going on.

PS: As did both of you!

KN: Oh yes, of course. But we were women that loved that. You have to have the right woman. You can't just force any woman to do what she doesn't want to. We wanted to.

PS: Today it's politically incorrect for us men to notice such things.

KN: I didn't know there was a problem with it. Living in LA I see a lot of beautiful women. I go to restaurants and see beautiful women and I stop eating and look at them! They're just gorgeous. I didn't see a problem there.

PS: Violence in movies causes far less a stir than even the smallest amount of sex.

KN: Yes. What really is funny is that some of the sex in the mainstream movies is almost like porn. How dare people say "Ooooh, you're a porn star, you're a porn star." Putting me down.

PS: Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixens would be seen as tame by today's standards.

KN: Yes. And Russ put a lot of comedy in it to make people relax about sex. Not be so uptight about it. He made fun of it.

PS: Videos from your past get re-released all the time. Do you receive any residuals for that work?

KN: No. Thank God I have my own money now. I have an apartment building and houses. I have real estate. No. If I was to do it again I would've made sure I got royalties. In those days we didn't involve an attorney to do those contracts. You're young, you're making money, you never think the gravy train is going to end. But it does. Youth ends. Beauty ends. It all ends. So that's the way it is.

PS:Can you get any rights back or is that a lost cause?

KN: Well, I'm doing my book and it's going to be basically a book that you read with 1 hand. I have thousands of pictures. We've been going to eBay and buying a lot of my photographers' stock. They're selling the negatives. In those days they had negatives. That's how I acquired some of those. They're not that expensive, but it gets expensive when you buy hundreds and hundreds. But that's what I have to do and that's why it's taking me so long with this book. It's like a coffee book with like 10-15,000 - I'm selecting the perfect photos.

PS: It's always important to do what you do well.

KN: I went through a bad divorce and I lost a lot of money and burlesque was done... A lot of changes came to me. I was 44 or whatever. I went into deep depression and I hit the bottle 24/7. Those were rough days.

PS: What brought you out of it?

KN: I just couldn't live like that anymore. I was dying. I said "I'm not going to kill myself! I'm not going to go down like this!" So I went to AA. I couldn't do it on my own. I would hide myself for 3 days without booze and I'd be fine. Then I'd go to a party and somebody offered me wine. I'd go "No, I can't take it!" But then I'd take it. It was rough. That's been 15 years ago. Clean and sober and I love it! I hadn't been drinking until I was 30 years old. My first drink. That was with Russ Meyer. I didn't stop until I was 45 or 46. It was weird.

PS: That's quite a triumph!

KN: I was ashamed, but now I'm talking about it. I'm telling you how awful it was. So I'm not ashamed. If I was ashamed I wouldn't speak about it. I'm just honest about myself because it's better you hear it from me. I don't like people who beat me to telling people my secrets. I'll tell them!

PS: You also had a double mastectomy. Tell me about that.

KN: Yes, but they saved parts of my breasts to have reconstruction. In those days I didn't like the implants - they looked like toilet plungers so I went to Tijuana and got silicone injections. They pump you up. You go every couple of weeks and they give you a big syringe of it. Well it wasn't really pharmaceutical. It was industrial crap they were putting in and it rotted everything inside me. It did cause cancer. It was horrible, but you know what? It's over. That was like almost 17 years ago. That's a long time ago. I'm back to stripping. I'm back to film. Life went on thank God! I just don't let it stop me. They have great plastic surgeons.

PS: Saline implants?

KN: Yes!

PS: I hear they feel much more natural.

KN: Yes, they feel very natural. You're right. Ooooh! I'm touching them right now! (laughing) Ooooh, yeah. I don't want to stop now.

PS: It sounds like you have lots to be proud of.

KN: You know what it is? I just won't let it pull me down. I'm just going to keep going. I'm not going to give up and throw the towel in. No! I kind of wanted to be retired because being a landlady is a lot of work and I don't let anybody handle my money. I interview people that live here. But the thing is that these girls that live here in my apartments - they've been living here a long time and they haven't left. It's rent controlled so I can only raise the rent 3%. Once they leave I can go to market value, but they don't leave because I'm pretty good. I take care of everything. It's very nice. It's like a little paradise here. I do lots of gardening. I just enjoy it. I love cleaning and sweeping and all that stuff. I love getting outdoors and doing all that.

PS: That seems like a good segueway to tell me about working many years ago for Stella Stevens.

KN: That's right. I was her housekeeper and took care of her son Andy.

PS: How was she to work for?

KN: She was my hero. So sweet. She had a Cocker Spaniel dog named "Clown" who she loved so much. She was wonderful. She taught me how to make chili con carne and cornbread. She was a good cook. She was from the South so she liked her Southern cooking.

PS: You've certainly had an adventurous life full of ups and downs.

KN: I had 1 abusive guy I couldn't get rid of who used to beat the shit out of me. Broke my nose. That's why I have such an ugly nose. Finally, thank God, he went back to Hawaii and for some reason he hit his wife and then she put him in jail. I should have done that but I was so stupid. I've done some stupid things.

PS: We all have, Kitten. I understand you'll be part of a new project called League Of Exotique Dancers.

KN: Yes. We did a documentary and they chose 10 women that made a difference in burlesque, and I was proud to be in it! It's a Canadian production and the girls that we worked for were very, very nice. They followed us through kind of a routine of our day.

PS: How much burlesque performing do you do now?

KN: Here in LA I get invited quite a bit. So I do maybe once a month. And traveling maybe 3 or 4 times a year. It's involved.

PS: Do you see any new talent that impresses you?

KN: Oh, God yes! There's a lot of girls that are very, very talented and beautiful. Some are just perfect and some just need to not be afraid to show they're sexy. I think some of these women just don't want to turn on that sex. If they did they'd be even bigger and better. Because sex sells. When I go and talk and they ask me "How did you do it?" I say "Well, turn the men on. It sells!"


Kitten Natividad would like to thank her fans for their years of support.
I would like to thank her for graciously sharing her time!

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